A mar­ket of change

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - PETER GALUSZKA

One re­cent af­ter­noon, Hye No and his wife were wheel­ing a shop­ping cart to their car at New Grand Mart in Midlothian, a Rich­mond sub­urb. They had just fin­ished buy­ing gro­ceries at an in­ter­na­tional food su­per­mar­ket that opened May 8, fea­tur­ing aisles stocked with Asian and His­panic spe­cial­ties. “They have any type of fish there, an­dit’s fresh,” said No, who em­i­grated from South Korea to the town of Ch­ester in 1984.

The Nos may rep­re­sent a quiet but cru­cial change un­der­way in Vir­ginia. Over time, richer, bet­ter-ed­u­cated mi­nori­ties are emerg­ing as eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties have spread from North­ern Vir­ginia to other ar­eas, mostly metropoli­tan sub­urbs. As lu­cra­tive jobs at­tract them, the po­lit­i­cal na­ture of the state will change as well.

Are­cent study shows just how op­por­tu­nity is im­prov­ing in Vir­ginia for di­verse groups. The Cen­ter for Op­por­tu­nity Ur­ban­ism sur­veyed 52 cities and ranked peo­ple of African Amer­i­can, Asian and His­panic de­scent in such cat­e­gories as in­come, home­own­er­ship and pop­u­la­tion and in­come growth.

The Washington area, in­clud­ing North­ern Vir­ginia, comes out fairly well in the tally. The sur­prise is that Rich­mond and Vir­ginia Beach-Nor­folk con­sis­tently come in with strong rank­ings. Over­all, in best-city rat­ings for African Amer­i­cans, the Dis­trict came in No. 3 and Vir­ginia Beach-Nor­folk was No. 6. For Asians, Rich­mond was No. 2 and the Dis­trict was No. 3. For His­pan­ics, the Dis­trict came in No. 5 and Vir­ginia Beach-Nor­folk was No. 6.

Rich­mond and Vir­ginia Beach-Nor­folk also scored well for mi­nori­ties in home­own­er­ship rates, in­come and pop­u­la­tion growth. Other big win­ners were At­lanta and Raleigh, N.C.

This is not to say that the prob­lems of mi­nor­ity poverty are over — far from it. In­ner-city and mostly African Amer­i­can parts of Rich­mond have poverty rates of 26 per­cent, among the high­est in the state. In­ner sub­urbs are draw­ing poorer fam­i­lies.

Re­port au­thors Joel Kotkin and Wen­dell Cox do have a dis­tinct point of view. Hous­ton de­vel­op­ers fund their cen­ter, which pushes a view that Hous­ton’s lim­ited zon­ing and af­ford­abil­ity have built a mi­nor­ity-friendly job oa­sis that should be em­u­lated else­where.

Au­thor and de­mog­ra­pher Kotkin told me that eco­nomic growth in the South and parts of the West has long out­paced that in the Far West and North­east. News cov­er­age of racially tinged po­lice shoot­ings clouds eco­nomic progress made by mi­nori­ties who are leav­ing high-ex­pense cities such as New York for the South and South­west. “Many of the places that worry about racial in­equal­ity are the places where it is the worst,” he said.

I don’t buy the ar­gu­ment that easy-zon­ing sub­urbs are the way togo, but I have to ad­mit that parts of the re­port ring true. In sub­ur­ban and mostly white Ch­ester­field County, Va., where I live, a re­cent re­port shows that Asian fam­i­lies were only $1,000 short of match­ing the Cau­casian me­dian an­nual house­hold in­come of about $75,000. African Amer­i­cans were not far be­hind at about $60,000. His­pan­ics made the low­est at about $46,000.

What’s driv­ing the growth? Stephen Farnsworth, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mary Washington, said fed­eral spend­ing in North­ern Vir­ginia is fu­el­ing much of it. “You are go­ing to see eco­nomic ad­van­tages ex­pand as jobs move out to other parts of the state,” he said.

The spread is un­even. Hamil­ton Lom­bard, a re­search spe­cial­ist at the Wel­don Cooper Cen­ter for Public Ser­vice at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia, said he hasn’t seen much data sug­gest­ing big in­come gains for African Amer­i­cans and His­pan­ics. Stewart Schwartz, head of the D.C.-based Coali­tion for Smarter Growth, faults Kotkin for ig­nor­ing prob­lems of public transit and walk abil­ity. “Who wants to drive miles to a sub­ur­ban of­fice park?” he said.

How­ever they play out, bet­ter job op­por­tu­ni­ties for mi­nori­ties will af­fect tra­di­tional state pol­i­tics. Chal­lenged will be older ideas held mostly by whites about Vir­ginia’s ex­cep­tion­al­ism and peck­ing or­der. Di­verse groups might recharge their sense of iden­tity and push back against xeno­pho­bia.

Farnsworth said he’s al­ready see­ing a new form of es­trange­ment. Older, ru­ral and mostly white ar­eas are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly Repub­li­can as other, more ur­ban ar­eas en­joy the strong eco­nomic growth that’s at­tract­ing “more ed­u­cated and more driven” di­verse groups, he said.

New Grand Mart is a prime ex­am­ple of the busi­ness bus­tle. Scott Kim, a man­ager, told me that his com­pany, which has stores in Alexandria, Falls Church and Langley Park, stud­ied the Rich­mond mar­ket thor­oughly. For­eign food out­lets had been mostly mom-and-pop stores in strip malls de­spite grow­ing pent-up de­mand. As his cash reg­is­ters jin­gle, he said he is “amazed” at the di­ver­sity of the Rich­mond area.

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